SYDNEY (Reuters) - John Coates survived a threat to his 27-year reign over the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) when he comfortably beat Danni Roche in a ballot at the body’s annual general meeting to be re-elected president until 2021.
The 66-year-old, one of the sporting world’s most powerful figures, would have lost his roles as International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president and head of the coordination commission for the 2020 Tokyo Games if he had lost the vote.
After an acrimonious campaign, however, the lawyer won 58 of the 93 votes, with Olympic hockey gold medallist Roche supported by 35 AOC executive members, sporting bodies and athletes’ representatives who made up the electorate.
“Thank you for your confidence in me,” Coates said after his re-election was met with a round of applause and a few whoops at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Coates later conceded that the AOC brand had been damaged by the election campaign but was not interested in any recriminations.
“I‘m not getting into any blame. The election is over,” Coates said. “What I might have said, what others said about me, that is over. Just move forward.”
Roche, who had taken aim at Coates’s A$700,000 ($520,000) annual consultancy fee and pledged to divert more funding to athletes from administration, congratulated her opponent but said the desire for change in Australian sport was undeniable.
“Although the AOC members did not vote for a change in president, the past six weeks marks a pivotal moment in Australian sport,” she told reporters.
”We have started a much-needed conversation about the future direction of Australian sport...
“There is a desire for the AOC to place a greater focus on their sports and athletes and for it to have a more collaborative relationship with the federations and Australian Sports Commission.”
Coates also tightened his grip on the AOC executive with allies Ian Chesterman and Helen Brownlee elected as vice-presidents, while Andrew Plympton, his biggest critic on the board, losing out.
Coates, who assumed office in 1990, has not come through the process unscathed, however, and lost his fiercely loyal media director Mike Tancred to accusations of bullying from former AOC Chief Executive Fiona de Jong during the campaign.
While his financial and money-raising acumen remain beyond doubt, he must find a way to work with the government, through the federally funded Australian Sports Commission (ASC), to arrest a slide down the medal tables in recent Olympics.
Having finished fourth at Athens in 2004, Australia was 10th at Rio last year and the friction between the AOC and the ASC, led by wealthy Melbourne businessman John Wylie, was almost certainly behind the damaging presidential campaign.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury/John O'Brien